The Greatest Discovery Never Made – Ancient Civilizations Thrived With NO Ruling Elite

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There is a remarkable discovery that has not yet emerged from our renewed interest in ancient civilization. Yet few remark upon this glaring omission from the relics and records we dig up and discover. I first recognized its absence at a visit to the British Museum, and made a point of going back a few years later for another check. Their Mesopotamian rooms begin at 6500 BC, and as you wander through the exhibits and look at the artifacts and depictions of their culture there are none depicting warriors or warfare, chariots or combat, clubs or swords – for nearly four thousand years. As for kings and rulers, there was a single image thought to be a king because it looks like he’s wearing a crown. And what is this king doing? He is feeding flowers to sheep.            

Thriving Ancient Cities with No Ruling Elite?

Around 2700 BC the first inter-city state dispute turned into what could be termed a war. Little is known, other than that the Sumerians made off with the weapons of the losing Elamites. Things went downhill from there and within a few centuries a psychopath named Sargon of Akkad murdered the existing king, seized power, and conquered 21 thriving and successful cities in Mesopotamia, cities that had operated without top down control by a ruling elite, but by bottom up organization – something at which people naturally excel. He obliterated the city of Kazalla when it resisted, encouraging total compliance from the rest, and called the process “unification,” titling himself Sargon the Great. He started an unfortunate trend.

Bronze head of Sargon of Akkad was the first Mesopotamian ruler to control both southern and northern Babylonia, thus becoming the king of Sumer and Akkad and inaugurating the Akkadian Empire.

Bronze head of Sargon of Akkad was the first Mesopotamian ruler to control both southern and northern Babylonia, thus becoming the king of Sumer and Akkad and inaugurating the Akkadian Empire. ( Wikimedia Commons )

The Root of War

Some assume that humans had been slaughtering each other since the beginning of time rather than cooperating with each other, and that the first war in 2700 BC was simply the first one recorded, since writing had only recently appeared. But the evidence discovered to date does not support the assumption, and writing was widely believed to have arrived with taxation. Taxation is what pays for standing armies and warfare, with our earliest written history telling us how many chickens farmer Fredi brought to market.

So, what does this mean? Why is this non-discovery so important? How did humans manage to live in cities and trade with each other, enjoying life much as we do today, without rulers? After all, aren’t death and taxes supposed to be immutable facts of life? Death may be, but taxes are no more than a recent invention in most of the world.

Palaces and Monuments Built with the Blood of Slaves

Since writing began, almost all the recorded history of the world tells us of top-down control by rulers demanding a proportion of everybody’s productivity in order to support their elevated work-free lifestyle. We marvel at the great palaces and monuments that survived the collapse of empires and rulers throughout the world, rarely bewailing the fact that so many millions of ordinary human lives like yours and mine were sacrificed to create them, or destroyed at the time of their overthrow.

Palaces and monuments were built on the back of slaves and lower-class civilians

Palaces and monuments were built on the back of slaves and lower-class civilians ( public domain )

Tiwanaku Flourished Without a Ruling Hierarchy

We think, based on our limited history (as written by the conquerors) that war, conflict, and top-down control are the natural order for humanity. It is important to recognize that it has not always been so. The great Tiwanaku Empire of South America flourished for six centuries with no need for, or evidence of, a ruling hierarchy with weapons, soldiers, and armies of conquest. Though they had no written language we know they flourished in what is now Bolivia, Peru, and Chile between 300 AD and 1000 AD, with some suggesting that their culture may have extended many thousands of years deeper into the past. Their power came not from swords or clubs but from a highly desirable civilization with a religion based upon Sun worship. Agricultural and social skills were key to Tiwanaku power, as well as their knowledge of how to brew alcohol from maize, and make psychedelic drugs from local plants. These were generously administered at the great festivals that were integral to Tiwanaku life. People did not need force to encourage them into such a union.

The Tiwanaku enjoyed trade and commerce, religion, art, sculpture, ceramics, textiles, irrigation, fashion and a highly integrated and cooperative social structure. In short, they maintained an equitable sustainable civilization for longer than did the Roman Empire, and organized it from the bottom up without the need of kings and military structures.  We are community animals by nature, blessed with high intelligence. Living together should not be a difficult task but a joy. When Tiwanaku civilization eventually collapsed it came about not by conquest but by climate change, after decades of prolonged drought.

Comments

Marilyn French spelled this out in detail in her book BEYOND POWER.

This is one of the problems in the sciences these days, nonsense proffered as factual information to support an ideology or hawk a product. As a archaeologist and traveler, I've studied the Tiwanaku culture. I've been to the site, the big museums in La Paz and the curious little rural collections. There was an elite leader, sometimes referred to as the "Great Decapitator" depicted in numerous statues and other imagery. The concept of a peaceful and leaderless progressive society is a fantasy of liberal mindsets. Anyone capable of rational thinking knows that from the nature of humanity.

Fascinating article. I always thought two things humans always needed and managed to get was a leader and a religion or some kind.

I agree and also don't mean to completely undermine what was noted above. Unfortunately there is much evidence for warfare, struggle, and cruelty between/among humans. Cultures that developed separately ie not the Near East all engaged in warfare and had hierarchies - for example China
and Meso America (warfare and human sacrifice a part of life) Actually statistically we are more peaceful today. According to the author of Home Deus there are more deaths by suicide in the world (800,000) than war (500,000)

It sounds really nice, but unfortunately it is only a half of the ancient reality.

There was struggle and elitism since paleolithic times. At least graves of shamans or cave grave of a boy lavishly decorated by sea shells from Italian caves suggest that there was someone who was considered as extraordinary at those times.

More significant example comes from Neolithic Varna graves known for their gold. Only couple of individuals were provided with such a goods. Those seems to be ruling elite of the community of this time.

Another striking example comes from ancient Egypt. So called Cave of Swimmers decorated with many paintings is showing us one community defeating the other in armed combat. So called swimmers are being interpreted as dead tied up people lying on the ground.

Last example comes from Egypt as well and it is famous Narmer palette showing victorious ruler killing captives.

I don't mean to completely undermine what was noted above it is necessary to see whole picture.

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